The second the temps dipped below 60 degrees, I immediately bought a bag of dried pink beans and indulged in what has since become my obsession: braised beans. We made these often when I was a line cook at Reynard at The Wythe Hotel.
Most people have heard of braised beef or short ribs or pork shoulder and those are all lovely and delicious. Braised meats are fabulous, effortless and impressive party stoppers and Sunday suppers.
Alas, I mostly cook for a party of one. While pork shoulder is one of my favorite things eating it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner all day every day? No thanks. Lately, I try to maintain a certain balance in nutrition. My current vocation is at Five Leaves where I quite often indulge in the amazing burger
Beans, on the other hand, are imminently appealing and malleable beyond belief. You don’t need a special pot or fancy name brand. Although Rancho Gordo does carry amazing heritage cranberry beans. I love raiding the local bodega and snagging anything that catches my fancy. Yes, I know it’s intimidating and a bit head scratching.
How will these tiny little shrunken pellets set me up with meals for a week?
They’ll turn out bland!
Fear not, the mysteries of beans shall be revealed.
Forget soaking them overnight. Cover them with water and bring to a boil for a few minutes. Turn off the heat and let them sit around for an hour or so. Drain the beans reserving some of the liquid. Using the same pot, throw in some small diced carrot and onion. Sometimes I don’t have carrot and onion but I do have garlic! Throw whole cloves into a dash of canola oil and let brown. Remember, browning equals flavor. Those garlic cloves will dissolve into the liquid and form the base of flavor. Who doesn’t want to fight a cold with a bowl of this?
A little meat goes a long way. I had a ham hock. I added the ham hock. It tasted great.
Again, cover the beans with water and reserved liquid. Add a good dose of salt, a half table spoon to start, and fresh pepper. Add a big glug of apple cider vinegar and enough extra virgin olive oil so you can see it forming slick pools on the top.
I love a palm full of dried fennel seeds for depth and a bay leaf if you have one handy. Then cover and set the flame as low as possible. Baby lima beans take about 45 minutes. Anything more dense will take longer, usually up to 2 hours.
Taste! Salt added early has enough time to absorb into the beans. Adjust flavoring. Squeeze a lemon at the end for a citrusy kick.
Alternatively, put in a covered dish, foil topped and place in a 300 degree oven for 2 hours. It’s all delicious.
To serve, I wilt a hand full of torn kale in a very hot pot until it slightly chars. Add some noodles and cover with beans. If the beans are too thick, add water until you reach desired texture. In restaurants that’s what we call pipe stock. It’s water, get it?
If the flavor base is there, it’s all you really need.
Add salt and pepper to taste and top with some grated Parmigiano Reggiano or cilantro based salsa verde.
Voila! Dinner is served.